By Emma Chow

My partner has a huge family. The incredible thing about this huge family is that they all really love and care for one another; very different from my own experiences growing up.

For some years our tiny family budget suffered trying to select truly thoughtful and desirable gifts for these many family members, especially amongst nine adult family members who gathered annually on Christmas morning and my children. Being a family of no extraordinary wealth, a clever soul decided that Christmas presents would be done Kris Kringle style.

Names would be drawn out of a hat (though this year we used a clever free online app that assigned names and emailed them directly to family members), and each person would post up a list of things they would most like for Christmas on Facebook. For older family members not so familiar with social media, another family member can put this list up for them.

We have a limit of $70 for gifts, which means that we can often afford an assortment of the things each person has listed.

On Christmas morning, once everyone has arrived and deposited their gifts in the growing pile, we sit in a circle and reveal whose Kris Kringle is whose, and distribute the presents.

We find there are several benefits to doing presents in this way:

  • Each person saves money by not having to buy a gift for every person
  • Each person gets one or more things that they actually want instead of a lot of random gift things
  • We don’t create a lot of waste by buying things that might get re-gifted, go unused, be donated to the op shop or be thrown out
  • As everyone works, we save a lot of time and energy by shopping for just one person and don’t have to spend lots of days in stores
  • Having a list of things the person wants really takes the stress out of picking the “right” gift
  • No one ever feels hard done by or uncared for, as each family member has been the focus of one person
  • There is a lot of excitement in finding out who was assigned which person
  • Our cars are saved from being filled up with lots of gifts
  • The family includes a mix of religious and non-religious people, and we avoid getting too involved in the commercialised, greedy aspect of Christmas, while refocussing on enjoying one another’s company altogether on a special day
  • Young children are not included in the Kris Kringle and receive big and small gifts from everyone, and we all enjoy paying attention to the children and their delight at unwrapping presents.
  • We can spend more money on food, and have the time and energy to each produce a delicious dish for Christmas Lunch, which inevitably turns into a day-long graze

It’s been great fun doing this the last few years, and I’m really looking forwards to going out and buying some special things for my Kris Kringle. As the lists go up, it’s really interesting to see what each person has their eye on, as it reveals a lot about personality but also their thoughts and plans for the upcoming new year. I was assigned my father-in-law and on his list was the desire for a good digital watch. I went one better; knowing that he had a penchant for hiking but had the tendency to get a bit lost on the way back, I found a watch that had a compass that used GPS technology to set a start point so that the compass will always point towards the place of origin, guiding you back to where you began. He loved it, and it showed both attention to what he wanted, but also thoughtfulness in knowing what the person also needs and enjoys. That’s the whole point of the exercise really, apart from saving money.

How to start

If you’re a family that has been heavily into buying gifts, but would like to give this a go, you could do so gradually, by doing the Kris Kringle side by side with a price limit for gifts for everyone else. For example, you could do a Kris Kringle with a $60 limit when buying for the person whose name you have been assigned, and spend no more than $10 on gifts for everyone else. Eventually, you might decide to just do a straight Kris Kringle every year.

Kris Kringle and Charity Donations

Another way to approach this style of present giving, would be to do the Kris Kringle alongside donations to a charity such as UNICEF, who annually provide Christmas Gift catalogues which outline donation amounts and things they could buy, such as $40 for 200 polio vaccines, or $69 for 10,000 water purification tablets. While buying one present for a Kris Kringle, the family could pool money they would otherwise spend on more presents, and buy something that UNICEF can use to help people in 3rd World countries.

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